The snow crunched beneath my gum boots as I walked away from our family farm. In the Wisconsin 20-below-zero weather, it was so cold that I could feel the hair inside my nose bristle and freeze. My blue tick hound, Ruby, raced around me in circles, chasing pigeons that she would never catch.
It was ten-thirty a.m., and the morning chores were done. The last few rows of corn were husked and the corn was in the silo. Winter was my favorite time of the year, that time when all I had to do was the chores in the morning and then again in the evening. Winters in Wisconsin were too cold to work in the sawmill or in the fields, so I had two choices. I could stay cooped up inside our farmhouse all day playing checkers with a sibling, or I could take to the woods to do some hunting. I almost always chose hunting.
It was my first year out of school. I was 15, and I was free. Well, as free as one can be in a community with preachers who keep close tabs on rowdy teenagers.
Normally when I went hunting, I took several brothers along. But today would be different. Today was the beginning of a new era in my life—a sip of a drink that, once tasted, I would never recover from. As the silo tops disappeared over the hill behind me, I glanced across the fields and scanned the woods before me for prying eyes. This moment had to be perfect.
I reached into the front of my home-made hook and eye denim coat, felt for the knob, turned it, and in one instant a whole new world opened for me.
She wakes me every morning with a smile and a kiss
Her strong country lovin' is hard to resist
The blast of music rocked me back on my heels, and I was in love. Ruby cocked her head to one side as if to ask, “Bro, what are you getting into now?”
For the first time in my life, I had something to pass the time besides the grind that is the norm on an Amish farm. Today, my focus wasn’t on getting enough rabbits and squirrels to have a nice dinner to feed a family of fourteen. No, today I finally had a window to the outside world, and I was going to glean all the information I could.
Deep in the heart of the woods, down in a draw and out of the wind, my hands dug down through three feet of snow until they found some dry leaves. I cleared a circle six feet across and struck a match to the leaves. The rabbit Ruby had chased up earlier served as lunch for both of us. I piled more branches onto the fire, and as the flames rose, two lonely creatures, a young man, his dog, his gun, and his first ever battery-operated radio settled in for an afternoon of country music. On that afternoon, in January of 1994, exactly twenty years ago, I discovered Garth Brooks. It didn't take long to figure out that he was the hottest artist on the radio. And to me the reason was clear. He simply put more heart and soul into his lyrics than all the rest.
And on that day a dream was born. One day, I too would aspire to become a great inspirational singer. I would change lives just like Garth’s music had changed mine. One day I would leave the Amish, meet Garth in person, and we would become best of friends. He could teach me the small things I didn’t already know, like how to sing, or play a guitar. Maybe, we would even do duets together.
Three Years later
In 1997, still Amish, and still not a famous country singer, I listened as my little radio exploded with the news of Garth Brooks playing LIVE at Central Park in New York City. Although I had some idea of what direction New York was, I had never heard of Central Park, and I wondered if Garth's popularity was diminishing since he was now playing in a park. I decided that I would run away and attend this concert if it was the last thing I ever did. Alas, I did not attend that concert. There was some sort of technicality about a minor trying to cross a state border, or something along those lines, I believe is what the state trooper called it.
By the time I finally left the Amish in 2002, The Garth Man had retired, and I was left feeling bitterly disappointed in this great man who dared to retire at the height of his career, just when I needed him the most, and all because he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Many things in my life have changed since I trudged through three feet of snow in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin 20 years ago, just to listen to my radio. The first is that I discovered that it is much more difficult to meet and befriend stars than I ever imagined. The second is that although I can sing, I didn’t grow up with musical instruments, therefore I simply can’t sing with the beat of music—something that seems mildly important when trying to entertain thousands of fans.
But the dream still burns on, and when Garth Brooks announced on Good Morning America that he was going out on tour in the fall of 2014, it rekindled so many old memories. I immediately remembered where I was the first time I heard Shameless, or The Dance. I remember how I felt back then, and how I am still moved today, when I watch the video to Standing outside the fire.
Although no dates have been set, you can bet that I will be somewhere in the audience screaming at THE BIG MAN. This time state borders can't hold me. And this time there won’t be chains of a religion restricting me.